This talk looks at the evidence of beer in the archaeological record from China, Egypt, Nubia, Mesopotamia, and the Americas and whether beer may have been a factor in the domestication of grains. In addition to the archaeological evidence, I’ll discuss the importance of beer among many indigenous societies for daily food but also as a ritual lubricant during feasts. My ethnoarchaeological and archaeological research from southwestern Ethiopia documents how we can decipher beer in the archaeological record.
John W. Arthur is Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of South Florida Saint Petersburg. His present research focuses on interpreting social stratification from African archaeological and living contexts. Since 2005, he has been engaged in a project studying the history and prehistory of the Gamo people, who live in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia, through the dialogue between oral history, ethnoarchaeology, life histories, and archaeology. The project also has located and conducted test excavations on several caves and rockshelters from the Gamo highlands that date back to 6000 years before present. We have found a 4,500 year old male human skeleton from Mota Cave that has provided the first complete ancient human genome sequenced from the African continent found.
His previous ethnoarchaeological research used the life cycle approach (i.e., procurement to discard), to view the many contexts that ceramics can undergo in a complex stratified society, revealing that household ceramics are an excellent indicator of household social stratification. His studies in Ethiopia also indicated that beer production is visible in the form of residues on archaeological ceramics, and as a consequence beer producing elite households can be distinguished from non-beer producing commoner households.
Since 2009, he has been working at the Weedon Island site in Pinellas County, Florida with USFSP students doing small test units near the shell mound. While training the students in archaeological methods, they are trying to delineate house features and to develop a method of understanding calories from the different shells they are uncovering. By looking at the resources Native Americans were utilizing 1,000 years ago to today, they hope to determine the ecological changes Tampa Bay has undergone over the last millennia.